It’s About Safety in Gaming with T.L. Taylor

photo of T.L. Taylor
Reimagining the Internet
Reimagining the Internet
It's About Safety in Gaming with T.L. Taylor
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T.L. Taylor might be the first sociologist to ever take online gaming seriously. Maybe it’s because she’s a gamer too. We invited her on the show to talk about her work with AnyKey advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion in gaming and livestreaming, and we were thrilled by her accounts of how gaming spaces are harbingers of social trends to come, online and off. Sometimes those are real problems like coordinated harassment, but sometimes those are collective solutions like distributed moderation and efforts to forge safe spaces.

T.L. Taylor published Watch Me Play in 2019, an ethnography of Twitch. She also helped launch AnyKey, an organization advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion in online gaming spaces.

Transcript

Ethan Zuckerman:

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Reimagining the Internet, I am your erstwhile host, Ethan Zuckerman, here in my office at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and I am hanging out with one of my dear friends over from MIT. In fact, she and I usually get together and sit together during MIT’s graduation. I don’t think they’re going to invite me this year. So you can have an empty seat in my honor, T.L. But T.L. Taylor is the professor of comparative media studies at MIT, director of the MIT GameLab, co-founder of AnyKey, an organization dedicated to diversity and inclusion in gaming.

She’s a qualitative sociologist who focuses on the inter-relations between culture and technology and online environments, particularly game environments. Her recent books include, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming and Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming. T.L. I am so embarrassed, we’ve done 40 plus episodes of this podcast, we haven’t talked about gaming, Mike and I could not think of anyone better to introduce us into this world, welcome.

T.L. Taylor:

Thanks. I’m really excited to be here and I have to say, I have a special excitement when I’m invited into these kinds of conversations, because I feel like, “Gaming, the internet, of course, there’s lots of good stuff to talk about.” So, thanks for bringing gaming into the conversation.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Well, thanks for helping us address this blind spot, and I’ll confess that it’s a blind spot for me too. I teach a class called Fixing Social Media. We rarely talk about game spaces, although my students are working on an exercise about healthy online communities. And I would say quarter of them end up pulling in game spaces as their sample online communities. Help us with our ignorance, T.L. How big is online gaming, online game competition and live streaming on networks like Twitch?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, I mean, the way I usually frame it is, gaming has just become everyday mainstream leisure activity. I mean, the numbers of people who are playing are massive every day, and it’s actually like across demographics. So, I think part of what’s happened is, scholars who are focusing on internet studies probably still have slightly outdated models of who games, and so it’s still maybe kind of a 1990s model of like young men, isolated and even maybe, it’s just younger.

The thing is, I think when people start looking at the demographic data, you see like, “Oh wait, elderly people are playing games.” I mean, I’m 54, I’m in a major swath now of people who play games, women play games, Latinos, Blacks. It really has become a wide mainstream leisure activity, akin to television movies and all kinds of other stuff. And of course, the internet has amplified that tremendously. Right? You download games now online, you get them on your phone. It’s really ubiquitous in that regard.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I’ve gotten used to the ubiquity. What I still would confess, I’m sort of getting my head around, is live streaming. Help me understand when it became a major mode of social interaction to play online and to invite people to watch as you have outlined in your most recent book, which is a really deep dive into that space?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. Yeah. It was interesting because when I was writing my E-Sports book, so that was from the mid 2000s. I think that book came out in 2012. During that period, people were still the thinking a lot about television. Like, “Oh, if we can just get competitive gaming onto television, that’ll be the turning point” And the way I often think about it and describe it is that, you have the intersection suddenly of the televisual meets internet infrastructures, meets gaming.

And so, once you get things like live streaming platforms that are robust enough to broadcast games, you start seeing this tick over. I started that project on Twitch, one of the major game live streaming services in 2012. And I would say, in just the last, it’s amazing to think that was 10 years, but as those infrastructures have grown, as gaming has become a mainstream leisure activity, and also too, I think just as cultural sensibilities around consuming online content have shifted. Twitch doesn’t sit off to a side, it’s part of a YouTube universe, a gaming universe, a Netflix universe.

I mean, the rise of live streaming is also coming at a moment where cord-cutting was happening, people were ditching traditional broadcast cable packages and moving to online. So for me, one of the powerful things about gaming, it is really always at the heart of big cultural trends and conversations. It’s never, and it’s not just that it’s at the heart, I actually think sometimes it’s right on the front edge. So I often say if you watch gaming, you’re going to see what’s coming down the pipeline in five, 10 years.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Talk to me a little bit about questions of racism and misogyny in gaming culture. So, again, I want to make sure that I’m updating my priors here. I certainly know that there’s a history of puerile and juvenile behavior on some of these gaming platforms. I know that historically some of these spaces where gamers get together and turn to each other are not the friendliest places on the internet. To what extent is that still true? Has that changed as the dynamics of people playing games online has changed, or has it actually worsened it by diversifying the environment and forcing confrontation?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. It’s such an important question. I want to hold two stories in tandem when we talk about this, one is I always want to keep on the table the empirical truth that women, people of color, queer folks have always been present in gaming. They’ve been there from day one, and they have been gamers from day one. So, I want to always hold that there as a truth. And then, we can talk about what we can learn from that.

I think one of the things though that has happened is, as gaming became a mainstream leisure activity, the often invisibility of some of those gamer populations began to get pulled back, people began to be visible and present. And as often happens, that’s where we started to see some battles, where people maybe start saying like, “Actually I prefer to not have that happening in my space.” And you have another contingent like, “Your space? What are you talking about?” I think the whole Gamergate moment, I think, got enough widespread media attention that many people know that there was a point where these battles were really awful and vexed and people were getting hugely attacked.

I think on the good side, it was a wake up call to a lot of folks, a lot of platforms, a lot of companies to begin take things more seriously, take gatekeeping, take harassment, take this really awful policing of gamer culture seriously. So that said, yeah, there’s still some really awful toxic parts of game culture. Again, gaming doesn’t sit outside of culture at large, we are culture filled with sexism, misogyny, racism, all that stuff, and that stuff is a part of gaming as well. I think what I’m really encouraged by are the really intentional front and center initiatives and actions to try to disrupt that the way their communities building really healthy groups together often from the ground up.

So, maybe actually there’s three stories here. I’m always trying to hold in tandem. One, women, people of color, queer folks, always been present, always been gamers, always been a part of the culture. Two, yeah there’s some really awful toxic, deeply, deeply corrosive aspects to game culture. And three, people, many people are committed to making their gaming spaces better and are often from the ground up trying to figure out ways to do that.

Ethan Zuckerman:

We’ve got Hegelian synthesis which is what we aim for in any serious academic evaluation.

T.L. Taylor:

Exactly.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I want to go into the antithesis piece of that just for a moment, and I don’t want to drag either of us through Gamergate, but just to remind people, this was an online harassment campaign that started in the summer of 2014. It was largely focused on some independent female game developers, ZoĆ« Quinn, Brianna Wu, the feminist critic, Anita Sarkeesian, and it ended up with this very fierce counter reaction of predominantly young white male gamers saying, “Those aren’t games, first person shooters are games and women don’t play games, guys who live in their mom’s basement play games.

And why are you dragging gamer culture away from really what it is, which is this isolated, misogynistic, nasty subculture, and then essentially replicating those stereotype behaviors in this really ferocious attack on people who are really trying to broaden what gaming was about?” How did Gamergate changed your involvement with this space? You’ve been writing and talking about this really throughout your academic career, I would argue the leading thinker in the space. How did this shape you personally?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. That’s interesting and powerful question. Well, in some ways I wasn’t entirely surprised because I think if you follow the gaming community … if you listen to podcast, if you’re reading stuff, it was very easy to sense that there was a feeling like our space is being encroached upon, and that the very visibility of particular folks constituted bringing politics, I’m doing air quotes for the audio, politics into the space. There was also, we began to see, it’s always interesting too how changes in games themselves get pulled into these debates.

So, as you have the rise of mobile gaming, you start getting conversations about like that’s not real gaming, this designation of what’s a real gamer. And again, as gaming is rising into a mainstream leisure activity, it doesn’t surprise me that you’re going to have some folks who are going to want to dig in their heels and say this is ours. In my work on eSports, one of the things I write about are formulations of masculinities that circulate, that it makes no sense. I mean, now we take this for granted. This is older work, but one of the things I was tracing out was the status of geek masculinity at the time.

Masculinities occupy complex and vexed locations in our culture, and I think you had some men who their geekdom was woven up with their race and their sexuality in really complex and ultimately nasty ways. So for myself, it was a very strange and painful time. I was luckily not much of the target. I had a few comics made about me and I was pulled into one of the early … these cuckoo charts where people are trying to draw who’s connected to who and who’s funded by who, but I was largely unscathed.

Ethan Zuckerman:

The global conspiracy.

T.L. Taylor:

Yes. Yeah, yeah. So I was largely lucky. I didn’t get too much personal heat for that. What did happen was, there were a number of companies that really bungled their responses to Gamergate, and they didn’t speak up, they didn’t stand up for what was right. They let the Gamergate side drive the conversation. So, one of the things that happened in turn is when companies finally started wising up, they looked around and said, “Oh, how can we productively intervene?” So for myself, what happened was Intel was one of those companies that bungled first out of the game.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Okay.

T.L. Taylor:

They really screwed up, and they ended up setting aside millions of dollars to diversity and inclusion initiatives. And because of the work I had been doing on eSports, I knew a company that was doing competitive gaming stuff, and Intel was one of their partners and they thought, “Hey, is there something we can do here?”

Ethan Zuckerman:

Okay. All right.

T.L. Taylor:

That’s how we began the launch of AnyKey.

Ethan Zuckerman:

T.L., what is AnyKey? Who is it for? What does it do?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. We founded AnyKey, I guess now about five years ago, boy, I should know the exact date, but we founded AnyKey a number of years ago to try to tackle diversity, equity and inclusion in gaming. We started with our foot pretty solidly in the E-sport space. So it was founded by myself and a fantastic woman. She has a PhD in anthropology herself, Dr. Morgan Romine. Morgan is an amazing person and scholar. She actually founded one of the first women’s competitive eSports teams. So she has been around this space for a long time.

So, we founded the initiative in conversation and collaboration with Intel and ESL, which is one of the major eSports leagues. Our hope was to actually try to take research based insights and transform them into practical ways to help things be better. Because part of what both Morgan and I were encountering, I cannot tell you the number of conversations I had with great people, men, women, people, all kinds of folks who are like, “I want it to be better.” Honestly, the number of men I met, who would be like, “I want my club to be more diverse and I don’t know how to do this.” And we were like, “Let’s find ways to help.”

Ethan Zuckerman:

And what are some of those research based ways? What are some of the insights about making these spaces friendlier for women, friendlier for people of color, that you’ve been able to put into place with AnyKey?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, we did a few things. Some of the research was stuff we already had from our respective research programs. But the other thing we did is we held workshops. We held these kind of private closed door workshops like, you don’t tweet about them, we don’t say who’s there. They’re just private places to talk. And we tried to generate some insights, heard from women who were in the space. So let me put it this way. One of the things I think a lot about is, what can we learn from the communities and the people who are doing things that are working? Like, even if the scale isn’t right, are there things we can learn from them?

And so we brought women into the room, for example, who were successful in the space and talked to them about their challenges and what they needed and what was useful to them. And we heard a range of things, and it was everything from role models. The number of women I’ve talked to have said like, “I went to a convention and I saw a woman on stage playing, and I thought, ‘Oh, I could do that.'” Now, of course, I say like, “We know that, we know the power of seeing someone like yourself do something.” So we spun up a video series of role models of just different kind of folks carrying out their job. So that was one thing.

We heard people talk a lot about … they wanted to have a better club community, but they weren’t sure how to get there. We have a bunch of white papers, we put out recommendations. Here are things you can do to build in more diversity into your club to make things more welcoming, here are codes of conduct. Maybe you should think about not just having PC games, but maybe having console games, like the actual infrastructure of your club will shape who’s there and who feels welcome. So, I’m giving you just like … It was just a range of things.

I think we were just trying to find whatever we can do to help. And this thing about codes of conduct, I mean, we came up with a code of conduct. It may seem really basic, but you’re a college club, not even a college club, you’re an organization, you’re wanting to start … You’re wanting to ramp up, so you have your diversity and inclusion, but you don’t really know how to write a code of conduct. That’s accessible. That makes sense to a gaming community. So we wrote one, and we put it on our website and said, “Take it. It’s yours.”

Ethan Zuckerman:

And what’s GLHF and the GLHF Pledge. How has that played into all of this?

T.L. Taylor:

The Good luck, have fun pledge, it’s funny because it was … So basically we had this idea, what would it look like to say to people like, “Here’s a code of conduct, here’s like, I commit to trying to be a good citizen, help make my game space a better place, be supportive, all that?” Could we come up with this kind of pledge people could sign? Because we often go to conventions, parks, and people come in and they’re interested and they love the initiative, and they’re like, “What can we do?” And we’re like, “Okay, how about you sign the … You can sign this pledge.”

And then we were really lucky, we had some good allies at Twitch, Twitch has a whole system of these little badges that people can have next to their names. And it’s a fun thing, it’s customized, but can also be a little bit of a status symbol. And so, we worked with Twitch to make it, if you sign this pledge, you didn’t have to, but you were welcome to link it to your Twitch account and you’d get a little badge in there.

Ethan Zuckerman:

And you can hold people to this. Correct? You can basically call someone out if they’re not living up to the pledge?

T.L. Taylor:

That’s right. The other thing we found though, the unexpected thing we found was when we started asking people about this, they would say things like, “I went into a channel, so they went into a Twitch stream and they saw the AnyKey badge on other people there, and they knew it was a safe place, or they knew-

Ethan Zuckerman:

Oh, that’s interesting.

T.L. Taylor:

It was a good place. So this power, this very small little symbol of, yeah, we’re in this, you’re in a good place. I have to say that badge and that pledge was … So we are a nonprofit. We spun off as a fully fledged nonprofit a couple years ago. That badge is funny because we’re pretty, we’re just a scrappy little org, just a couple of us. That badge had tremendous uptake, and I think now we’ve had … I could be wrong, but I think we’re over 800,000 signatures.

Ethan Zuckerman:

That’s really big. That’s fantastic.

T.L. Taylor:

That’s big. Right?

Ethan Zuckerman:

If someone’s listening to this and says, I want to put this badge up, where do they go to learn more about that?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. If people are interested in the pledge and taking it and/or getting the Twitch badge, they can go to AnyKey.org. And at the top, there’s a link that says, GLHF Pledge, Good luck, have fun pledge, and you can take it and join the numbers. Now join the 1,400,000 other folks who have taken that pledge.

Ethan Zuckerman:

So, I know that you’ve had great cooperation from Twitch, you’ve had great cooperation from Intel, which obviously takes gaming seriously from some of the professional leagues. Twitch obviously has basic features where you can kick someone out of a channel, but they don’t have anything as sophisticated as say Tracy Chou’s Block Party. Or you can have a list of regular offenders or things like that. How is Twitch handling moderation and how are threatened communities at Twitch handling moderation of their spaces so that they do feel like the safe spaces that people want to be in?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, it’s a really important question. So I should say … So my last book was on Twitch. I now sit on Twitch’s safety advisory council, which is just a group of us who give them feedback on different policies. As a lot of advisory councils, we see policies, we give feedback, we hope we give valuable input. I think one of the things I find really interesting about Twitch in particular is there’s this fascinating relationship between what users do to improve their experience and improve the experience of their communities and what Twitch does and the kind of circuit between those two.

So, one of the things that I’ve always found really powerful about gaming is communities are usually pretty active in innovating in being social innovators to their experience, and sometimes technological innovators. And that’s the case for Twitch too. So, Twitch has a long history of people having created bots to help moderate the system.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Oh, okay.

T.L. Taylor:

So there were all kinds of user created bots put in place to help do basic word filtering. There’s actually very accomplished, dedicated, both professional and lay moderation teams that often have very interesting training systems that have shared discord or slack channels, where they are sharing data with each other, including people that they’ve banned. So, there’s this very lively from the bottom up innovations around managing and producing better experience.

Twitch has in turn picked up on some of those and integrated them into the platform itself. Again, pretty common in gaming, where you have people doing innovation and then formal developers pick it up. So Twitch, a number of years ago built in their auto mode system. So it gives the new user kind of sliders and ways to do some basic moderation, and they keep building that out. You’re absolutely right though, things often don’t especially move as fast as they could. We had, it was in the last year, these really massive hate rates that were happening on Twitch, where streamers were getting descended upon by groups of viewers and really targeted harassment, and Twitch certainly got criticized for not doing enough quickly.

Again, what was interesting is, communities themselves started working together to build systems to disrupt this, and ways to try to get around it, and ways to try to figure out how to manage the harassment that was happening. I think as with all platforms, they are very often two steps behind the unfortunately creative harassment that people take on.

Ethan Zuckerman:

It’s interesting that, obviously, as someone who studies games, I mean, trolling is at least on one level, certainly not on all levels, but a game of its own. Right?

T.L. Taylor:

Yes.

Ethan Zuckerman:

And at a certain point it becomes more fun to show up on someone else’s stream and disrupt it than you were having on your own. You just talked about two affordances that sound pretty fascinating. One being the ability to deploy bots to do at least some form of filtering, and then the second, this ability to train moderators. Are those supported within Twitch’s infrastructure or are those like unofficial responses to the situation?

T.L. Taylor:

So the bots thing is interesting because Twitch has integrated now into the formal product, a lot of the user generated innovation that came from the bot system, and I’d have to double check now, but at the time I was doing my research, I believe some of the major bot producers had even been hired by Twitch.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Oh, wow. Okay.

T.L. Taylor:

So I think Twitch keeps a pretty close eye. To be honest, that’s not unusual in the gaming space. It’s very often the case that gamers who have innovated in some way, whether technologically or socially, and I always think it’s really important to think of social innovation, because it’s often just the tech that gets highlighted. But if you think about, I mean, things like guilds, those came from communities. Those didn’t come from the top down. So, those folks who are doing those kinds of innovations are often hired into the companies themselves. So bots have been taken on.

The issue of moderation is really interesting. I would say Twitch absolutely has recognized the value of moderation teams and has been increasingly trying to recognize them. And it ranges in different ways, whether it’s some kind of behind the scenes tools. So one of the things that now you can find on Twitch is, there’s a lot more information, background information, that’s tools that are given to moderators to manage a channel, from how they’re timing people out to seeing prior timeouts that person had. So it used to be moderators would keep these extensive grassroots logs that they would share with each other-

Ethan Zuckerman:

Right. You pass around spreadsheets-

T.L. Taylor:

That’s right.

Ethan Zuckerman:

To sort of say, this is a known bad actor on-

T.L. Taylor:

Exactly.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I saw him on 915 doing the following.

T.L. Taylor:

Exactly, exactly. And it’s been interesting to see Twitch, all platform companies, try to figure out like which parts of these they want to take on, which parts of these they have hesitations about. I would say too, Twitch has, if you go to … Well, it hasn’t happened for a while now because of pandemic. But if you go to their big events, there’s often special sessions for moderators, for streamers, dedicated to helping them tackle that job. So, I don’t want to sound like I’m singing Twitch’s praises too much, but I do think-

Ethan Zuckerman:

No, but it actually does sound like Twitch is actually learning from its community, which feels like a low bar to get over. But frankly in the online community space is a bar that most-

T.L. Taylor:

That’s right.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Of these companies don’t manage to clear. So if Twitch is clearing it, they deserve a certain amount of congratulations for that.

T.L. Taylor:

That’s right. I think for me that’s why it’s so important that we put gaming platforms and spaces into this conversation, because we may see experiments there that Facebook is not undertaking, or that Twitter is not undertaking. But it’s funny because gaming is strange on the one hand, even though it is this mainstream leisure activity, millions of people every day, it sometimes gets to sit off in this little side nook, both for better or worse.

The worse is sometimes really awful stuff happens there that should be brought to larger attention. That’s maybe better. So sitting off to the side, things should be brought to attention, but it is also a place where I think we can see really interesting experiments happen that might be worth paying attention to.

In that spirit, can I get you to feature one or more streaming communities that’s doing this really well? Right? Is there a particular game or community around a game where if someone wanted to study this in action and say, “Here’s how a bunch of gamers are creating a really terrific safe space?” Where would we look for something like that?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. I think there’s really fantastic things happening. There’s a great streamer who does a show, Kahlief Adams, called Spawn On Me. A lot of these are almost media properties that cross multiple sites. But I think Spawn On Me is one. Black Girl Gamers is another fantastic one. I think one of the things that we’ve seen is that, communities that are really committed to inclusion and positive engagement, they spend a lot of work fostering that. They have robust moderation teams, they thought about it. There’s another, one of the folks that sits on the safety advisory council with me, CohhCarnage, has a really extensive moderation team. They have, I believe, a training manual that they even use to bring on.

Again, these are grassroots initiatives. I think if you go to AnyKey, we have a number of affiliates. So, one of the things we were committed to doing, we really wanted to do in AnyKey was, not just recreate the wheel, which a lot of projects do. We were like, “How can we amplify and boost the work that’s already being done out there?” So if you go to our webpage, there’s an affiliates link and any of those folks are doing really tremendous work, and again, working hard to build some communities. But Spawn On Me and Black Girl Gamers certainly come to mind as two top ones.

Ethan Zuckerman:

T.L., anything you want to make sure that we feature in this conversation that I didn’t get to? I feel like we’ve dealt with the parts of it that I’m most excited by, which is this idea that maybe we have the gaming space all wrong, and that out of some really hateful moments like Gamergate, there actually is a lot of movement, not just from the community, but also from the platforms, which I think is super exciting. Is there another facet of this that you want to make sure that we understand, so we’re not coming away with a partial view or an occluded part of the equation?

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah. Maybe this is just checking in with you. I don’t want … I feel like these days a lot of what I’m trying to point to are the places where things are better and what we can learn from them. But I don’t want to diminish the shittiness. I guess you can check me on if I’ve gotten the balance right here. I mean, there really are and remain terrible forms of harassment and gatekeeping in the gaming spaces. And for me, I will say the stakes for that are really high because I actually consider the ability to have leisure time freely, the ability to participate and playing games. I think it’s a human right.

And I think actually at this moment, participating in these spaces is a way of participating in culture. And so, one, if we aren’t taking them seriously, and if we aren’t attending to the ways people are actively gatekeeped, kept, harassed out, then we’re ignoring how sites of culture are themselves not accessible to folks. And we all have a right to play, we all have a right to leisure, we all have a right to form community in these spaces, and they really matter. They really matter.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I had an interesting personal moment with this. My son is 12, he’s deeply involved with a bunch of different games, mostly hangs out in his own Minecraft server, plays Factorio with me. But he is very interested in among us this online deduction game where you have to figure out who is the betrayer, and it’s a space where there has to be lots of conversation. It is inherently a social game. But he goes on with his friends and routinely will find someone using the N word to talk about Black people, saying hateful things about Jews, and his mother and I found ourselves talking with him about this.

And my first response was to say, “These are kids, they’re seeking attention, they’re being awful.” Then my other experience with this was, as a cisgendered white man, this maybe the main form of harassment he ends up occurring as a Jew in an online game space. I’m grateful that his response was to stick up for his Black friend, and instead of say, “I’m Jewish, he’s Black, we’re not going to take this crap, we’re going to boot you from the server.” But I think that notion that these spaces demand to be taken seriously, I had to check my own reaction because my first reaction was, “It’s the internet. Everyone’s awful. Everything is awful.”

Ethan Zuckerman:

And then, my second reaction was like, “Actually, this is a very major part of how my son socializes and this may be, hopefully this is the worst bullying he ends up experiencing, but you can’t minimize the impacts of all of this.

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, no, that’s right. It’s so hard because the really toxic folks, they take up such a disproportionate amount of air, like a handful of toxic folks in a game, one toxic person in a game, they just suck it all out. They suck all the air out of the room. For me, I’m like, “How can we both get platforms and developers to understand that they are accountable and responsible to the nine other people in that space, and how do we give the other people in that space the tools to not just manage it, but boot the person, reshape it?”

So I feel like I’m always in tandem wanting to amplify the work that good folks are doing, and try to constantly say to platforms, “You are accountable. You cannot say you’re going to build any kind of social space and think that you step back and wash your hands. You have built a cultural technology that requires accountability, and you’ve got to own that.”

Ethan Zuckerman:

And this might take us into a space that’s a little far from your expertise, a little far from mine as well, but we’re watching Facebook where brand itself is Meta, and conclude that it’s going to own the three dimensional experience, which I think you probably agree is going to start with a lot of gaming. And apparently one of the first things they did was release a social space product that was fully tactile supported, which meant that if you were wearing a vest that had tactile feelings to it, and someone groped you, and game space, they were groping you. That feels like the thing that probably should have been a thought about before it ended up in the New York Times.

T.L. Taylor:

Ethan, I cannot tell you how much this … The emerging conversation on Meta, I think it drives many of us who spent the nineties researching early virtual worlds and avatars and embodiment bonkers, because we have so many good lessons from that period that go to the heart of embodied presence in multi-user spaces. Right? I mean, you can even take something like Julian Dibbell’s amazing journalistic work on an early tech space world and find Lessons Galore in there that we should be thinking about now.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I teach that every semester. Right?

T.L. Taylor:

Fantastic [crosstalk 00:40:05]

Ethan Zuckerman:

[crosstalk 00:40:05]

T.L. Taylor:

Yes.

Ethan Zuckerman:

It’s a critically important work for people to understand what would it mean to be harmed, it really forces people to wrestle with that question. Is that a rape, is that an assault? And those are the questions that I ask my students to deal with. I’m also watching a change over the years. I think at this point, students unquestionably acknowledge what happened in that at minimum as sexual assault.

T.L. Taylor:

That’s right.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Which was much harder to get people to agree to even 20 years further back. I think as the line between real life and digital worlds gets less stark by the year, the understanding that, “Yeah, you can get groped and that’s really not cool and really not a great experience.” It seems like it should be full employment for people like you and me who care about the space and have gray hair, but for whatever reason, these decisions seem to be getting made by the 20 year old engineers.

T.L. Taylor:

Yeah, exactly. It’s a shame because it is … You and I then, you remember, in the nineties, on the internet, nobody knows your dog, and I feel like the last decades of internet research has been showing that actually our lives offline and online, flow back and much more complicated ways and rich ways, in ways that require some real care when thinking about technology. And it’s such a shame if some of the power of that, I mean, is lost because we’re not paying attention to the really critical issues that we’ve known about for a while. Right? So then we have to start asking like, “What’s at stake in ignoring those histories and ignoring those insights?”

Ethan Zuckerman:

I think histories is exactly the word, but the word T.L., I am starting to think that, it’s interesting, computer science departments, I think, are starting to figure out that they need to have an ethics class. Right? They have to talk something about computing and ethics. I wonder in many cases, if actually we shouldn’t require a computing in history class, that understanding that many of these problems that we’re dealing with have antecedence. We’ve seen these problems unfold before, and we have some thoughts on how to solve them. We also have some thoughts on how they’re likely to recur. T.L. Taylor, this has just been a joy. Thank you so much for making time with us.

T.L. Taylor:

Thanks, Ethan.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Thank you for helping us make up a little bit for this blind spot in our work. We’re going to be trying to feature some other colleagues of yours in the space. I’m hoping to talk with Johanna Brewer fairly soon, who is now a colleague of mine in the Pioneer Valley.

T.L. Taylor:

I know.

Ethan Zuckerman:

I would urge people to look for your books, particularly the most recent one, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming, and to make sure that they check out, is it AnyKey.org?

T.L. Taylor:

AnyKey.org.

Ethan Zuckerman:

Make sure that they check out AnyKey.org. T.L., thank you so much for being with us.

T.L. Taylor:

Thanks, Ethan.